We whizzed into the County of Nelson. “You’re home!” I informed the South Korean import who has never previously visited in any of his nine lives to my knowledge. It turns out he wasn’t the star turn. Rather that belonged to a certain Admiral Horatio Nelson, the much-battered, philandering naval commander. Nelson took the news with typical feline indifference.
Despite his global fame and substantive accolades, it occurred to me that I have never met anyone called Horacio, at least not to my ever-increasingly fallible knowledge, although I think it would make for a fabulous cat’s name. It is fairly typical of the British public that the bulk of children’s names are to honour family members or note-worthy characters of their times. Just ask all those men called Neil born circa 1968 or the many Dianas with birth certificates issued after 1981. Her marriage brought the girl’s name to the top ten, having previously languished in three hundred and somethingth place for several decades.
As a boys’ name, according to the website UK Baby Names, Horatio, Italian in origin, scores 52% in the approval stakes, whatever that might mean. It also transpires that in the last year alone, nine boys have been christened after the glorious leader. Horace, its Anglicised equivalent, has a popularity ratio of 0%, with absolutely no boys being christened in emulation in recent years.
Calling the cat ‘Nelson’ was indeed inspired: his name receives a rousing approval of 76%. That said, it is thought to signify he is the “Son of Neil”. It is highly improbable that his real dad was called that nor was his once adoptive dad. In fact, come to think of it, naming him ‘Nelson’ had been an epic battle between the two irresponsible adults in his life; and one that lasted for several weeks.
The commanding puddle of overexcited fluff ended up so called because I had a dream. This sounds as if I should probably have called him Martin, but I had referred to him as Nelson in a mid-slumber discussion with my husband, even though it never happened. I awoke the following morning, positioned as usual between the two irritants: one the husband, the other the cat...
...and informed both of the cognomen. Astonishingly, both males accepted it without so much as a minor...
Tess, Nelson’s co-cat, had initially been selected for her hypo-allogenic qualities as my husband had previously refused pet ownership on the grounds of his allergies. She, having proved that he was, in fact, as non-allergic as a person can be, made way for the adoption of this morass of undercoat that is supposedly a British Shorthair.
Tess loved to sleep under the duvet cover, rolled up against my belly. Nelson, on the other hand, was a pillow dweller, a location that was far superior for spraying fluff in the direction of his adopted father's eyes. Thus, proving beyond all reasonable doubt that neither of us had any hypersensitivity to cats.
Given the choice of whom to cuddle first thing in the morning, having a pair of cats contrived to manufacture much by way of envy within the husband.
Nonetheless, the name Nelson was a vast improvement on “The Daft Twerp” which was how we initially referred to him after we’d observed him falling off, or headbutting at speed, the entirety of his home and for using the bed as a litter tray more than once.
These days he has more panache. More, but not absolute. Alas, he is not the only daft twerp in my household of two. For example, I failed to learn on the first occasion to never chuck his soiled wood chip litter directly into gusts of wind charging towards me.
And it is I who is one sporting several cranial bruises. My brain has never quite mapped out exactly where the overhead cupboards are situated despite repeated introductions. Perhaps this is no accident given it has long been held that women have inferior spatial awareness. In fact, upon Googling whether this might actually be true, Google supplied me with a 2019 study which stated quite categorically that women “are more susceptible to emotions and the parahippocampal gyrus worked less efficiently than males.” A finding quite…
That said, a more recent and very contradictory study states that any differences in women’s performances is largely a self-esteem issue. If one relays frequently enough that women cannot do something, they will come to accept it as fact. It is like a form of Stockholm Syndrome but without having to venture to Scandinavia.
Take parking, for instance. It has oft been stated women are worse at parallel parking, reverse parking and parking generally. And yet, by spending five minutes or so playing Tetris on one’s phone, a woman's so-called natural inability is corrected fairly instantaneously. Mind you, it is a bit of a faff, and probably highly offensive to the Highway Code, to have to complete a game before reversing into a space at Tesco.
It has always puzzled me that boys are significantly more likely to pass their driving test at the first attempt, and yet, prior to the passing of 2010 Equality Act, newly-licensed woman's insurance was substantially lower: sometimes more than half that charged for newly-licensed men’s. The algorithm used to determine the cost of legal requirement reflected the female of the species’ lack of propensity for smashing up the car. Then discrimination on the grounds of gender was outlawed and women’s insurance rocketed in an upward trajectory. Answers on a postcard.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, I greatly enjoyed listening to ‘The Gendered Brain’ by Gina Rippon as I toured the northern-eastern pregnant-looking part of England. Her analysis of recent research debunked much of what has been said on women’s capabilities over the aeons. For the unfamiliar, she is an occasionally-defined ‘neuronazi’ campaigning to correct a wide range of cultural ‘neurofoolishness’. Perhaps, to use more proper terms, she is a neuroscientist with a doctorate in physiological psychology. She set out to explore the differences between men and women, and found the conclusions sorely lacking in science. Her fascinating book outlines how much of what has been universally agreed amongst nations is nothing short than a prime opportunity for a good
…on the female of the species. Take map-reading, for example. That peculiar life skill was once weaponised as a wonderful example of womanly ineptness. The University of Limerick published a study during the pandemic which indicated that women get to the right result, but overall it takes longer and we rely on a different gazing technique. I personally use the technique of gazing at Google Maps because, first and foremost, it gives me something to blame when it all goes wrong. In all honesty, I frequently take a wrong turn because I am gazing at something other than the map. Besides, maps are old-school.
In Norfolk, it seemed everywhere I went, Google Maps was telling me to turn on to “The Street”. Every second lane seemed to be called that and it got me worrying about the levels of creativity amongst Norfolk's urban planners. Upon thorough investigation, it was not a lack of road names, but rather Google was simply having a quirky old time of it, banally renaming what was otherwise sensibly monickered asphalt.
In my journey around England, I have spent a considerable amount deciphering why a place is so called. Typically this is from its pragmatic relationship to the land or because of some other notable feature.
Oftentimes, I learnt that the original names have been corrupted over the years by the impact of the repeated invasions on our locutions; or the ever-changing enunciation of one’s accent affecting either one’s spelling or the scribe’s deciphering. It is why, for example, I can sing along to Haevn’s (note the modernistic ellipsis to dement the pendant) song, ‘Kites in a Hurricane’, and simultaneously worry excessively about how the felines fared during the stormy weather. Like most, I thoroughly enjoy a good mondegreen, although I never once believed the Police wrote a song called 'Sue Lawley'.
All this historical reality of England and her language has given rise to some stupendously marvellous innovations over the years even when the spelling lets the side down.
What perhaps is surprising is how many places survived the Victorian tendency towards Bowdlerisation. If one is unfamiliar, Bowdlerisation is what happened to Opie Street in Norwich. Prior to it being Opie Street, the very German sounding 'Gropekuntelane' was, like Butts Lane, a commonly-found farewell in almost all urban zones. The spelling varied across the regions, but I have deliberately opted for the politest variant. It literally was the road one travelled down to have a swift fondle of the ladies’ nethers, presumably for a fee.
Nowadays, Opie Street is, not that it is at all obvious, one of the roads in this county that is named after a woman: Amelia Opie nee Aldersen. Quite what she would feel about being a substitute for a street once also referred to as ‘Shame Street’ is anyone’s guess. I have no doubt she would have had some emotion regarding it.
In 1833, the writer and philanthropist’s name topped the list of 187,000 Parliamentary petitioners known collectively as Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. It was an emancipation campaign organisation set up in Norfolk’s capital town, whose acronym was, I presume, LASS! She is the very epitome of a contemporarily socially-acceptable icon, and yet her legacy is obscured for the lack of using her full name.
That discovery left me to wonder what proportion of street names are male in origination. The absolutely fabulously-named Ms Sankaranarayanan once had the same idea. Unlike me, she also has phenomenal computer engineering skills, putting them to use by analysing some of the world’s greatest metropolitan centres including London. From there, my favourite computer-programmer-to-date came up with an approximation of 27.5% as a global statistic. A more ethnocentric study of Liverpool had female-denominated streets as low as 11%, with men taking 58% and 31% being indeterminate like Opie Street itself might be.
Does any of it matter? Maria Pia Ercolini of Toponomastica Femminile, a movement addressing the male bias in tarmac in Italy, believes so. Sensibly, she argues that rather than renaming much of the roads, a practical and costly quagmire, the redress should come via new developments.
So I googled Norfolk’s naming and shaming policy. It is very explicit: First up, all name(s) should, when possible, have a proven historical connection to the land intended for development, … but if no suitable historical name can be found for the land, then a historical name related to an adjacent area may be suitable.
One wouldn’t need a degree in sociology to understand the fallibility of such a policy. The clue is in the word: history. Still, it gave me a fantastic opportunity to fall victim to my susceptibility for emotion and exemplify my very Britishness.
To pretend that tried and tested policies devised in yonder year do not have in-built partiality is nothing but a
Schools, the very epicentre for imparting knowledge to young and very impressionable minds, are another subset of architectural male prejudism. Schools Week found that Multi Academy Trusts are six times more likely to be named after men, and Free Schools set up from 2012 onwards are still twice as likely to male in honorific. I leave it to you to check the eligibility of their research methods. Nonetheless, as Horatio Nelson might have said himself: good leadership is no laughing matter. It literally is the difference between winning a battle and losing it.